Charlotte James3

Charlotte James of Baltimore’s Code in the Schools organization, speaks during a panel at the White House. (Image via YouTube)

Some of Baltimore’s top leaders gathered at the White House June 6 for a panel discussion which analyzed social change in the city.

Called “The Front Lines of Social Innovation: Models for Change from Baltimore City,” the event was streamed live from the White House and addressed the social plights that Baltimore is facing. Among those in attendance were Democratic mayoral nominee Catherine Pugh, Bishop Eugene Sutton, and Senator Ben Cardin.

From its record-high homicide rate to dealing with the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death, there are many aspects of Baltimore in need of social reform.

Sarah Hemminger, a neuroscientist and CEO of Thread, a city non-profit which engages underperforming high school students, spoke about her mentoring program and the importance of lifting up Baltimore’s youth.

“During times of division and strife in our city, we must rediscover the thing that is most important: one another,” said Hemminger.

Thread helps teens in less-than-ideal social situations thrive academically. She mentors low-income and at-risk kids with low GPAs, and helps them to graduate high school and further their education. Her program has a graduation rate of over 90 percent. Through several heart-wrenching anecdotes, Hemminger shared how she not only touched her mentees lives, but how they have helped her to grow as well.

The city’s health commissioner, Dr. Leana Wen, stressed the importance of healthcare to create social change. She talked about Vision for Baltimore, which allowed children to receive free eye exams and glasses. She also discussed her national campaign to help those with opioid and drug addiction.

“More people die from overdose than die from homicide,” said Wen. “We believed that every resident could save a life.”

The city’s health department has provided healthcare training to various members of the community to help with this issue. She also discussed racial disparities in health and how one of her programs that hires recently-released convicts helps with violence prevention.

Other topics of discussion included adding coding and computer science to school curriculums, youth outreach, education, and more. After the speeches there was also a panel discussion in which a panel of experts discussed other steps Baltimore needs to make towards reform.

“There are deep rooted problems of inequality, poverty and racism, but our residents feel the fierce urgency of now,” said Wen.